Dr. Caralynn Nowinski Collens is the CEO and co-founder of Dimension Inx, a regenerative biomaterials platform developing medical products that repair tissues and organs. She is passionate about building teams and organizations that harness technology to drive transformational change and improve the quality of people’s lives. Previously as the co-founder of UI LABS, a first-of-its-kind technology organization focused on the digital future of industries, Caralynn built the organization from concept in late 2011 through launch in 2014, serving as CEO until 2019. After starting her first company while a joint medical/business student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Caralynn spent her early career in venture capital and corporate finance, primarily focused on technology-based university spin-outs. Caralynn is proud to have been a member of the Chicago Chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and recognized as one of Crain’s Chicago Business’ “Forty Under Forty”, “Notable Women in Manufacturing”, and “Tech 50”. Dr. Caralynn will be speaking at the upcoming 3D Bioprinting for Bone event.
Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing?
Caralynn: Most of my early exposure to 3D printing was in the industrial world, and as such, I had been blown away by stories of decreasing the number of parts in a complex product like a jet engine from hundreds to tens of parts. Today, in my new role as CEO of a biofabrication company focused on creating a fundamentally new class of medical treatments, my “blown away” moments take on a new perspective. Now we’re talking about reconstructing someone’s face after a gunshot wound or offering fertility to a pediatric cancer patient – a whole new level of impact.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in biofabrication?
Caralynn: Spending five years as CEO of an organization that managed one of the national advanced manufacturing institutes, I developed a passion for how we make things and how to make them better using advanced manufacturing technologies like 3D printing and advanced materials. When it was time for the next leg in my career journey, I looked for an opportunity to blend this newfound passion with my previous background in medical technology. The timing was right to partner with Dimension Inx’s co-founders Adam Jakus and Ramille Shah to realize the potential of the 3D-Painting biomaterials platform they had developed over 10+ years of research and move our products into the clinic.
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
Caralynn: I am motivated by building organizations and teams that solve big problems and impact the quality of life. Dimension Inx is a young organization doing just that. Our team is committed to developing a new class of treatments that dramatically improve the standard of care and address the shortage of donor tissues and organs. We are a problem-solving engine committed to fundamentally changing how we treat human disease and debilitation. We bring what we do best in materials science and tissue engineering and partner with the world’s best clinicians and surgeons and leading medical products companies to deliver new medical solutions to patients.
Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?
Caralynn: We are still in the infancy stages of the market for 3D printing in medicine. As such, there is a lot of hype and noise to sort through, especially for newcomers to the space. Plus, there are a lot of unknowns, most technologies are not yet mature, and very few technologies have actually turned into products. Advancing more products into commercial use will begin to open up the market to new sources of capital, new regulatory standards and safeguards, new entrants and participants, and new opportunities. In the meantime, it is critical to keep educating and informing a broader audience through venues like 3DHEALS and others that are committed to showcasing new technologies and products and championing the utility of 3D printing for medical applications.
Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?
Caralynn: I can name quite a few big risks in my career, but one of the biggest was jumping into the startup world during medical school. Rather than proceeding with my residency after graduation, I instead joined a venture capital firm while building a gene therapy startup. I have never looked back for a second.
Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?
Caralynn: I get a great deal of satisfaction from tackling a big goal. Outside of work, this means training for and persevering through a tough hike or a long run. Last summer, my husband and I summitted Kilimanjaro; this summer, we’re staying stateside and climbing Mount Baker in Washington.
Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =)
Caralynn: It means offering hope to patients suffering from disease or debilitation. It means creating a new pathway for healing through the 3D printing of structures – of materials, cells, and other essential factors – that give our human bodies the environment, tools, and instructions to heal.